Mazda's comeback to the power of 6
Mazda has been lagging behind in the market despite some decent cars, but the Mazda6 might just spark a revival, writes MICHAEL McALEER,Motoring Editor
IN THE CROWDED car market, Mazda is one of the brands that flirt with obscurity. Its reputation for strong resale values, and its loyal customer base, never seem to be enough to give it a firm footing in the market, where it bounces along at between 1 and 3 per cent, depending on the age of its key models.
Every now and again it comes up with a show-stopping car, but that’s usually followed by a raft of also-rans. Suddenly, though, Mazda is making a rightful claim to be noticed.
First up was the smart-looking CX-5, a midsized crossover that would have secured a lot more sales had it been launched at the height of the SUV boom – and when the economic landscape was not so grim.
Now comes the latest Mazda6, arguably one of the most striking-looking cars in its segment. On looks alone this car should sell well, and in a market segment where fleet sales dominate and image is critical, this car may well single-handedly carry Mazda through the recessionary storm.
At a test event where it was nestled alongside recent rivals, engineers from competing brands begrudgingly admitted the Mazda6 has got what it takes to sell. The slightly coupé profile may not be unique – Opel boasts similar lines with the Insignia, and both Hyundai and Kia can claim a similar profile for their i40 and Optima – but there’s no mistaking the front nose for anything else.
With both a saloon and estate versions to test, we had a hard time choosing which was more eye-catching. For practicality we’d opt for the estate, and that seems to be in line with the vast majority of European buyers. In the expected bestselling Sport SE version, the estate costs just €1,000 more, while emissions go up from 108g/km to 116g/km. The trade-off would seem worth it.
Overall, the new Mazda6 is bold, a bit brash and, ultimately, beautiful. In terms of looks, established rivals have met their match.
Where it falls a bit flat is on the inside. The interior trim has been improved, but it still retains the typical Japanese DNA of slightly hard plastics that don’t quite match up to the quality of European rivals. It’s a shame because it’s up against the likes of the VW Passat and even the improved Toyota Avensis in this regard.
That said, the controls are easy to handle and quickly become intuitive. Interior space is as ample as one would expect for a car in this class, and the sloping roofline doesn’t eat into rear headroom or impede entry to any great extent.
Up front, the new Mazda6 comes with a choice of 2-litre petrol, 2.5-litre petrol or 2.2-litre diesel. The diesel will be the one for Irish tastes, with two variants on offer: either 150bhp with emissions of 104g/km (127g/km auto) or 175bhp with 119g/km (127g/km auto). However, the 2-litre petrol is at the entry-level starter price of €27,995.
We tested the 175bhp version on a variety of roads, and although there was some tyre noise in the cabin on harsher motorway surfaces, that could also be down to the fact our test car was running on 19in alloys.
The new car’s handling is up there with the best, retaining some of the sharp steering dynamics we’ve come to expect from a brand that has the MX-5 among its offerings. Pitted against some ridiculously tight and twisting country roads, this big car felt surprisingly agile. After a few corners you begin to get a feel for its ability, and you sometimes forget how much metal is trailing along behind the driver’s seat.
Since parting from the Ford family, Mazda lacks the financial clout to launch earnest eco-models that will not sell, so the firm has focused on developing more fuel-efficient models through the traditional engineering efforts of cutting weight and perfecting the mechanics. Part of the trick is to maximise compression ratios, lowering them on the diesel engines and increasing them on petrol variants.
All this falls under the firm’s “SkyActiv” tagline, but it’s likely to prove a thankless task trying to woo buyers on the basis of a plethora of incremental and often technically complex improvements.
The basic message of the Mazda6 seems to be: “Here’s a great-looking family car with relatively low emissions and fun driving dynamics.” That message rings true in the new car, and with luck it will revive the ailing fortunes of a brand that deserves better recognition in the market than it has achieved to date.
Prices Petrol: 2-litre 145PS Executive GE €27,995; diesel: 2.2-litre 150bhp Sport €30,995; Sport Auto €32,995; Sport SE €34,995; 175bhp sport SE Auto €37,995. (All prices subject to change on the back of the budget in December.)
Specification The expected big seller will be the 2.2-litre Sport, which comes with 17in alloys; 5.8in touchscreen; climate control; cruise control; Bluetooth; front fogs; front and rear parking sensors; privacy glass; hill hold; dynamic stability control; tyre-pressure monitoring; side and curtain airbags; rain-sensing wipers; and automatic headlights.
Due in Ireland January.
Our rating: 7/10
Hot looks, low-emission engines and a dynamic drive; let down slightly by interior trim that doesn’t set the world alight. Finally, a mainstream Mazda that might tempt buyers back to the brand.